In the end, Mailer and Breslin could never surmount the cloud of dilettantism that dogged their effort. On election day, both candidates lost, each finishing ahead of one rival—and on they went, to many other adventures and triumphs. No doubt there were many other excellent writers in their era, maybe even some better ones. But they were the stars, and it’s fair to say that their quixotic campaign, so vividly conveyed in Flaherty’s memoir, is what first made them larger than life.

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Jamie Malanowski has been an editor at Spy, Time and Playboy. He is the author of the novel The Coup.